Beyond Motivation: How to Turn Piano Resolutions into Accomplishments

2020—the start of a new year and a new decade.  Perhaps this is the year you’ve promised yourself that you’ll turn your dream of playing the piano into reality.  If you’re already an experienced pianist, perhaps you’ve set a goal to learn a specific piece, learn to improvise, play a concert, or make a recording.  Resolutions abound this time of the year; sadly, they’re usually forgotten by the 1st of February.

Change is difficult.  Strong motivation gives us an initial push but eventually the reality of hard work drains our enthusiasm and we find it depressingly easy to give up.  We tell ourselves we’ll get back to the piano tomorrow/next week/next month/next year but life—like nature—abhors a vacuum and soon we’re too busy or distracted to finish what we started.  An article in Forbes Magazine puts it starkly: only 25% of resolutions are kept after 30 days and only 8% become permanent.  

Once motivation and enthusiasm wane, being part of the successful 8% is a combination of  realism, self-awareness, and self-management.  There’s no “secret sauce” to success, but there are time-honored tips that increase our chances of reaching our goals.  Here are a few things that I’ve found helpful:

  1. Set an achievable goal.  This sounds obvious, but I’ve had more than one beginning piano student inform me that they wanted to play Rachmaninoff after a year of lessons. Remember: the more unrealistic the goal, the greater the chance of never reaching it.  
  2. Know your weaknesses.  Easily distracted?  Keep your phone away from the piano.  Easily discouraged? Work for small successes each day.  Need encouragement? Enlist people to bolster you when you feel like giving up.
  3. Embrace delayed gratification.  The secret to working toward any goal is learning how to tolerate discomfort in the present in order to receive a future reward.  Don’t save all the reward for the end of the project.  Work in small sections, set daily or weekly goals, and reward yourself when you meet them.   
  4. Be consistent.  Create a daily practice schedule (some tips here) and show up for yourself and the music each day.  Make this a part of every day, five or six days a week and stick to it.  
  5. Get help if you need it.  Find an instructor or a coach, listen to recordings by other pianists—whatever you need.  Pianists practice alone, but not a single one of us (even the self-taught players) are truly self-made.  Honor yourself and your goals by seeking assistance.

May 2020 bring health and joy.  And may 2020 be the year you realize your goals and dreams.

Happy New Year!